As the U.S. presidential race nears the finish line, diplomatic pundits at the United Nations are saying privately that they would like to see Barak Obama win.
They can’t say so publicly, because the U.N. charter prohibits them from any involvement in the electoral affairs of member states, unless requested.
Even hints at meddling can cause backlash. In 2004, U.N. chief Kofi Annan was seen spending time with Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and former President Bill Clinton before the memorial service for Ronald Reagan at the National Cathedral in Washington. That raised observers’ eyebrows, especially because Clinton had strongly supported Annan's move to oust Boutros Boutros-Ghali from the U.N. slot eight years before.
Annan, whose relationship with the President Bush White House was strained over the 2003 Iraq invasion became strained, saw it erode more as Republican campaign officials expressed anger over the encounter at the funeral.
Many inside the White House and in the U.S. delegation to the U.N. voiced suspicions that Annan had briefed the Massachusetts senator several times during the 2004 presidential campaign.
So, this time around, the U.N. has been mum on the presidential race, but many in the diplomatic corps have weighed in off the record.
Support for President Bush and the Republican standard bearer, John McCain, is virtually nonexistent in the U.N. hallways. A brief survey over a two-day period did not show any support for the Arizona senator but found cautious backing for the Obama/Biden ticket. McCain, though a long-time member of the Senate, has never been very involved with U.N. affairs.
Contrast that with Sen. Joseph Biden, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee.
Biden, a long-time member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been a vocal U.N. backer and has made numerous visits to its headquarters in New York City. A former Biden staffer, Madeleine K. Albright, was ambassador to the U.N. and later, U.S. secretary of state.
Annan has attributed his election as secretary-general to the critical support from Albright and Clinton.
As such, the Obama/Biden ticket is seen as a known commodity amongst diplomats, whereas McCain/Palin brings empty stares.
Another reason for the apparent Obama preference involves access to the Oval Office.
Democrats traditionally have elevated the post of U.N. ambassador to Cabinet rank, while Republicans have opted keep it within the State Department's diplomatic bureaucracy. Albright's unfettered access to Clinton was key in sinking Boutros-Ghali, say State Department officials who served at the U.N. then.
African delegates have been especially vocal in their support of Obama. Although none would speak for attribution, it was clear that Obama's African family roots carry some weight with Third World delegates who normally would shun any close association with Washington.
Many at the U.N. believe that, under a Democratic White House, the world body would regain some of the influence it lost during the Bush years.
Compound that with the repeated talk that, if Obama is elected, Bill Clinton could become the United States’ next U.N. ambassador. Sending a former president to the U.N. would send a powerful message to the diplomatic community.
"It would be tremendous," explained one diplomat.
The only person who might have second thoughts could be Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
"If you reporters saw Ban and Clinton walking the halls, who would you follow?” a veteran ambassador said with a broad grin. “Need I say more?”
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